After World War II, many people in Japan struggled to find food. The bread supplied by the government helped, but didn’t provide the comfort and familiarity of traditional noodle dishes. Momofuku Ando, a Taiwanese businessman settled in Japan, remembers seeing tiny roadside noodle stalls with huge lines and wondering how he could have a hand in feeding the masses.
The product of his pondering? A cellophane package of dried noodles that can be found in grocery stores around the world (and many college students’ pantries), widely known as instant ramen.
His invention led to an instant-noodle revolution that has been feeding the world ever since. Google paid homage to his tasty contributions through a Doodle in his honor on Thursday.
Mr. Ando was born in Japanese-occupied Taiwan on March 5, 1910, and was raised largely by his grandparents, who owned a textile factory. He moved to Japan to study business at Ritsumeikan University, and worked on his own entrepreneurial ventures, including being president of a bank. After the bank failed several years into the post-war recovery, inspiration for instant noodles struck.
“Peace will come to the world when all its people have enough to eat,” he said.
But how to get people fed? Ando zeroed in on noodle production, convinced there had to be a way to contain the flavor and keep a long shelf life while producing on a large scale. The problem was that most noodle production at the time was done by small businesses, and no one had yet figured out how to make noodles that didn’t take a long time to cook. So he got to experimenting, attempting to figure out how to make noodles that could be cooked almost instantly.
Finally, in 1958, he struck the perfect recipe. Google explains that “by flash-frying ramen noodles in tempura oil, tiny holes were created in the noodles that allowed them to cook nearly instantly once combined with hot water.” It was time to introduce the world to instant ramen.
Ando was serious about his mission to feed people as a way to create peace. He settled on chicken as a flavor due to its universal appeal.
“By using chicken soup, instant ramen managed to circumvent religious taboos when it was introduced in different countries,” Ando wrote in his autobiography. “Hindus may not eat beef and Muslims may not eat pork, but there is not a single culture, religion or country that forbids the eating of chicken.”
He launched the product as “Chikin Ramen” through his company, Nissin Foods. Though initially more expensive than noodle stalls, Japanese were wooed by the ability to make noodles quickly at home, and the price subsequently dropped. Instant noodles took off overseas in 1971, when the company began packaging the noodles in waterproof Styrofoam containers – what we know as “Cup Noodles.”
Today, Ando’s invention is one of the most widely adopted foods worldwide. As of 2008, a year after Ando died, global consumption of instant ramen reached 94 billion packages per year. Top Ramen and Cup Noodles remain the top products, but flavors have expanded to include beef, vegetable, pork, and shrimp, among others. Instant noodles have become a staple of disaster-relief food, and have fed people dealing with the aftermath of everything from earthquakes to tsunamis.
He continued innovating well into his old age, even developing a variety of the noodles designed to be eaten in space (aptly titled “Space Ram”).
His entrepreneurial spirit and inventive nature created both tasty noodles and a meal that has sustained people across all walks of life.
"Mankind is noodlekind," he once said. That has proved quite true.